Private Project

The Manhattan Front

Staged in a dollhouse, women, anarchists, and spies conjure the fantastically true story of how America entered WW1.

Once upon a time, in 1915, a German saboteur arrived to Manhattan to interrupt the export of American munitions to Britain. He soon finds a collaborator in a wayward stevedore who unwittingly leads him to a group of labor anarchists. Sabotage and betrayal soon turn these bedfellows into agents of the other’s tragic end. In the spirit of a silent film from the era, this musical melodrama plays itself out through the interaction of archival images and the theatrical rendition of lives as they might have been lived on The Manhattan Front.

  • Cathy Lee Crane
    Pasolini's Last Words
  • Cathy Lee Crane
  • Julie Blumberg
  • Kayla Reopelle
  • Cathy Lee Crane
  • Helen Highfield
    Key Cast
  • Brandon Alan Smith
    Key Cast
  • Sandra Glinka
    Key Cast
  • Amanda Shy
    Key Cast
  • Melissa Bergman
    Key Cast
  • Claudius Franz
    Key Cast
  • Eric Kincaid
    Key Cast
  • Bochay Drum
    Key Cast
  • Darryle Johnson
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Experimental, Feature
  • Genres:
    Narrative Fiction, Drama, History, Musical, War, Women
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 27 minutes 54 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 15, 2018
  • Production Budget:
    250,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
    English, Spanish
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Brighton Rocks International Film Festival
    United Kingdom
    June 15, 2019
    Official Selection
  • Workers Unite Film Festival
    New York
    United States
    May 15, 2019
    Official Selection
  • Bare Bones International Film & Music Festival
    United States
    April 25, 2019
    Lois Weber Award. Opening Night. Official Selection
  • Buffalo International Film Festival
    United States
    October 12, 2018
    East Coast
    Official Selection
  • SF IndieFest
    San Francisco, CA
    United States
    February 10, 2018
    World Premiere
Director Biography - Cathy Lee Crane

Cathy Lee CRANE has been charting a speculative history on film since 1994. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts as well as grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the San Francisco Arts Commission. Her award-winning films (which include the experimental biographies Pasolini’s Last Words and Unoccupied Zone: The Impossible Life of Simone Weil) have screened at the Viennale, San Francisco International Film Festival, Festival du Nouveau Cinema, Cinematheque Francais, BFI, and Arsenal/Berlin. Her body of work received its first survey in 2015 as part of the American Original Now series at the National Gallery of Art.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

When the orphan in this film utters the words “over and over and over again” she could be talking about how history repeats itself. During the centennial of WW1 (2014-2018) this film continues to reflect on the effects of the Great War; how munitions, labor, and immigration shaped the 20th century and continue to challenge us. The history of the Wobblies (IWW: Industrial Workers of the World) and the vibrancy of this labor movement from the 1910s it at the center of this film’s necessity. One big international union across trades and nations is still a radical idea that could wrest global capital’s stranglehold on the sustainable lives of workers. The complete eradication of the IWW at the end of WW1 through the Espionage Act of 1917 is the tragedy towards which this film’s own story is driven. Today, the Espionage Act of 1917 is being used by the Federal Government in its prosecution of Edward Snowden.

History is the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we’ve been told. Either way, stories shape us. Perhaps it’s not that history repeats itself but humans do.

When the orphan in this film utters the words “over and over and over again” she could also be talking about the work actors do in being asked to perform for a second take. My film is interested in presenting the act of acting actors do. I can accomplish this only because of the extraordinary work my actors do; trained in the Meisner technique that allows them to appear “natural” in being present to each other. Each time a second take of the same shot is added in sequence (there are at least three examples of it in the film), it reveals how each take presents presence. It is remarkable to me that it is possible to relate to performed characters, but we do. And as the set itself is set on the theatrics of a soap opera, it is even more remarkable that these characters are identifiably “real” at all.

The film forces the artifice of a staged fiction into extreme conflict with the veracity of archival images. This conflict is made explicit through their separation into color and black-and-white. Despite their extreme difference, these distinct visual registers slowly come to be continuous with each other. This film makes the process of associative thinking more transparent in making it more explicit. This would be a tiresome bore if it had not been made playful (fanciful really). The audience is given just enough of the story’s emotional drive from what the actors give us (even in their silences) and the suggestive archival documents provoke a mix of memory, nostalgia, and thought. This film can more accurately be described as a game; a puzzle the audience is asked to piece together. I am certain no two viewers will walk away having “seen” the same film.

Cathy Lee Crane
December 20, 2017